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EFL expert Gab Sutton is back with his EFL weekend preview. Here are his picks and best bets for the weekend’s action.

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Millwall v Coventry City

Under 2.5 Goals

4/7

Millwall and Coventry are both hoping to upset the odds in the Championship.

The Lions and the Sky Blues hold realistic Play-Off aspirations, despite possessing two of the divisions lower budget, thanks to excellent management from Gary Rowett and Mark Robins respectively.

The South Bermondsey hosts have had a mixed start to the campaign, which they began with a solid 2-0 win over Stoke in which their opponents were not given a sniff and centre-back Charlie Cresswell bagged an unlikely debut brace, after joining on loan from Leeds.

The following week, Millwall fell to defeat by the same scoreline at Sheffield United, but now they seek a 46th league clean sheet of Rowett’s 127-game reign.

That looks achievable for the Londoners, who boast an excellent core of defenders including Jake Cooper, Shaun Hutchinson and Murray Wallace.

Coventry, meanwhile, were out of action last week against Rotherham, due to issues with their pitch, which was affected during the Commonwealth Games.

The Sky Blues’ opening day was a 1-1 draw at Sunderland, in which Robins’ troops were second best for parts of the contest, but found a moment of magic from Viktor Gyokeres from outside the box to equalize.

The Swedish striker has another gear in his locker in terms of his all-round game, because the () front-man normally brings an excellent work ethic and strong hold-up play as well as his poaching instincts.

The issues with the Ricoh Arena forced Cov to play Bristol City at the Pirelli Stadium in Burton in the EFL Cup in midweek and it was a heavy defeat for the Midlanders, who will be looking to bounce back by recording their first league win of the season.

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“Millwall and Coventry both have a strong crop of centre-backs, while neither were at their best going forward in the previous league game. This could be a low-scoring encounter.”

Gab Sutton

Rotherham United v Reading

Rotherham to win

Rotherham’s trip to Coventry last Sunday was cancelled due to pitch conditions, but they played well in their opening game.

The Millers drew 1-1 with Swansea and arguably had the better of the play, in their first game back in the second tier.

It was an encouraging showing from Paul Warne’s side, to say that they still have work to do in the transfer market.

The South Yorkshire outfit may still be in the market for a striker in the next 20 days, although they have been linked with Ashley Fletcher.

The 26-year-old has tasted success in this region of the county previously, helping Barnsley to League One promotion in 2015-16, but he’s since played for West Ham, Middlesbrough and Watford – clubs that maybe haven’t been right for the stage he has been at of his development.

Fletcher could, though, find a home at Rotherham: he’s a very hardworking, athletic striker with good link-up play and an excellent spring, which allows him to act as an aerial reference point at times even at 6’1”.

If Rotherham sign the former Manchester United youngster, it would make a difference to their chances of surviving in the Championship, and beating Reading this weekend.

The Royals came from behind to beat Cardiff in their last league game, after losing at Blackpool on opening day, and Paul Ince is more popular with natives than outsiders might imagine.

The Berkshire outfit have lost two of their first three in all competitions, however, after being defeated by League Two Stevenage in the EFL Cup in midweek.

Rotherham, meanwhile, have potentially their best shot at staying up under Warne’s guidance, after bringing in defenders like Cameron Humphreys-Grant and Jamie McCart who are more progressive on the ball than they have had at this level previously, which means we may see them mix their game up and offer more on the deck.

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“Rotherham may be a more progressive side than the one that has been relegated in their previous three Championship attempts and could get a crucial three points against Reading, if striker Ashley Fletcher enters the building before the game.”

Gab Sutton

Accrington Stanley v Burton Albion

Accrington Stanley -1 Handicap

Accrington Stanley and Burton Albion go way back: they played one another in the Northern Premier League back in 1999.

In the subsequent 23 years, both clubs have gone on to succeed against the odds, with the latter even achieving two seasons of Championship football.

While Stanley look well-placed for another midtable finish this season, however, their visitors are in trouble.

The Brewers lost 3-0 at Wycombe on the opening day, then were thrashed 4-0 by Bristol Rovers, before a 2-0 EFL Cup loss to Rochdale.

Any one of those performances and results could be forgiven in isolation: Wanderers made the Play-Offs last season, Conor Shaughnessy was sent off after one minute against the Gas, and going out of the cup is not the end of the world.

As a set of opening showings, however, it’s worrying for Burton, who will almost certainly be battling the drop this year.

Accy, meanwhile, have begun with four points from their first two league games, drawing 2-2 with Charlton on day one before winning 1-0 at Shrewsbury.

Manager John Coleman has said after both encounters that has side can be better in their use of the ball at times, but if they can find that extra gear in possession whilst maintaining their usual intensity, then who knows what they can achieve?

The bad news for the Reds is that key defender Jay-Rich Baghuelou is out for the season with an ankle injury, so they need highly-rated Everton loanee Ryan Astley to make a marked impact in his first season in senior football.

The good news, though, is that Joe Pritchard – one of the better players in the league when fit, which he wasn’t last season – has been available to start games so far this season and threatens to bring a creative spark.

Elsewhere, assist-king stalwart Sean McConville and last season’s break-out star Tommy Leigh, recruited from Gosport Borough, have opened their goalscoring accounts for this season, like striker Korede Adedoyin, who has two already.

Few would have predicted Adedoyin and Matt Lowe, plucked from Brackley, would be starring in attack for a midtable League One side but that’s part of the magic Coleman brings: he consistently gets teams performing well above the sum of their parts.

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“Stanley are such a safe bet under John Coleman and they have had a good start to this campaign with four points from two games. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s Burton, who have shipped nine to no reply in all competitions.”

Gab Sutton

Wycombe Wanderers v Shrewsbury Town

Wycombe Win To Nil

It’s been a mixed start to the league season for Wycombe, who have been on the right and receiving ends of 3-0 scorelines.

The Chairboys thrashed beleaguered Burton on the opening day, but lost the following week at Bolton, a reminder of the need for defensive reinforcements.

Gareth Ainsworth’s side still require a senior goalkeeper to replace David Stockdale, who departed for Sheffield Wednesday, but they’ve made a crucial signing in central defence.

Eight years ago, Alfie Mawson joined up with Wanderers the night before their opening day win at Newport and helped them get agonizingly close to promotion in 2014-15, before going on to scale further heights with Swansea and Fulham.

After an injury disrupted period, Mawson returns to Adams Park, hoping to be the organisational presence that helps Wycombe win promotion and achieve what he couldn’t, quite, last time around.

The Buckinghamshire outfit accrued 33 points from a possible 39 in home games against sides below 11th last season, losing none, highlighting their reliability in the so-called ‘bread-and-butter’ encounters.

One of the three teams from that sample they were unable to beat on familiar soil was Shrewsbury, despite having created more than enough chances to win that match.

Steve Cotterill’s side have begun this campaign with one point from two games, with a goalless opening day draw at Morecambe followed by a 1-0 home defeat to Accrington Stanley.

Salop created enough chances to win their first match, and they only conceded the following week after Tom Flanagan’s second half dismissal, but there may be some concerns that they are yet to find the net this season.

The Shrews only scored 47 goals last season and are hoping the additions of Julien Dacosta, Tom Bayliss and Jordan Shipley can lift things for them going forward.

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“Shrewsbury are hoping their midweek 3-2 EFL Cup win over Carlisle can be a springboard for improved attacking showings in their league form, but Wycombe have just signed star defender Alfie Mawson, which makes things a lot more difficult.”

Gab Sutton

Harrogate Town v Crawley Town

Crawley Draw No Bet

5/4

Like Wycombe, Harrogate started their campaign with a 3-0 win, before following it up with a defeat by the same scoreline.

It’s been a Jekyll & Hyde first two games from the Sulphurites, who were outstanding against Swindon but struggled to create anything of note at Crewe.

Simon Weaver favoured a 3-4-2-1 setup in Cheshire, which allowed them to put together some neat passages of play in the opposing half due to the numerical advantages.

Crucial to that formation, especially when the two behind the striker operate closer to the double-pivot than to front-man Luke Armstrong, are the wing-backs.

Stalwart George Thomson is a technician but not somebody who will provide any real pace or width, while Jaheim Headley, on loan from Huddersfield, is a confidence player and wasn’t quite able to show what he can do in that regard.

For that reason, Town missed an outball during their better phases which would have allowed them to cut their opponents open.

If they experience the same issues against Crawley, Kevin Betsy’s side will be hopeful of getting their first points on the board to add to their midweek EFL Cup victory at Bristol Rovers.

The Red Devils possess the likes of nippy poacher Ashley Nadesan and creative forward Tom Nichols, who on their day can cause problems for any defence at this level.

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“Despite some tidy passages of play, Harrogate struggled to really stretch Crewe last week and that would be my worry for them against Crawley, who are looking for their first points on the board after a midweek EFL Cup victory over League One Bristol Rovers.”

Gab Sutton

Salford City v Crewe Alexandra

Double Chance: Draw/Crewe

The first two league games of Crewe’s campaign have been about solidifying and getting back to basics.

The Alex didn’t have an experienced, aerially dominant defender last season: the early evidence is that they now have one in Rod McDonald, arguably man-of-the-match in the 3-0 win over Harrogate.

They didn’t have an assured midfielder who could collect the ball off the defence and get things moving last season: they now have one in Conor Thomas.

The Cheltenham recruit has overcome the injury woes which were the only reason he got released by the Robins in the summer, and every time he receives the ball, the whole ground can breathe a sigh of relief, as opposed to being hunched when most tried to do that role last season.

Of course, it helps playing Rochdale and Harrogate as opposed to Portsmouth and Sheffield Wednesday, but nonetheless Crewe look competitive again – in terms of league performance, at least.

The Railwaymen have began their campaign with successive victories and are hoping to add to their tally in their short trip to Salford, where the only previous league encounter ended in defeat in 2019-20.

The Ammies have four points from their first two games, beating Mansfield 2-0 on the opening day before a goalless draw at Swindon, in which they played the whole second half with a man advantage.

Conor McAleny, Brandon Thomas-Asante and Callum Hendry have shown to be a devastating attacking trio against open, error-riddled opposition, but against tighter-knit rear-guards that leave less space in behind, they could have more difficulty.

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“I’m not sure McAleny, Thomas-Asante and Hendry will get the space they desire in the final third against Crewe, who have looked so solid and resolute in their first two league games.”

Gab Sutton

Gameweek 2:

Find Gab’s previous predictions below:

Bristol City v Sunderland

Double Chance: Draw/Sunderland

1/2

Sunderland began their Championship return with a 1-1 draw with Coventry last week.

The Black Cats deserved their first half lead through Jack Clarke’s back-post header from Lynden Gooch’s cross, and although the second half was trickier for Alex Neil’s side, they showed enough to suggest they can push toward the midtable mark in their first year back.

The Wearsiders press with energy and aggression, Alex Pritchard, Elliot Embleton and Gooch linked up beautifully at times, while Dan Neil’s class and grace should earn him plenty more opportunities in midfield.

With Dan Ballard looking solid in defence on debut, there are lots of positives for Sunderland, even if Viktor Gyokeres’ late equaliser denied them a maximum return.

Next on the agenda is a trip to Bristol City, where the Mackems launched a stunning comeback from three down in 2018, although ‘Bristanbul’ was not the turning point in the season some hoped it would be – they finished bottom of the league that year.

Now led by Nigel Pearson, City were the division’s top scorers outside the top six last season and, after what looks on paper a positive summer, they are hoping to challenge for a top half berth this season.

The Severnsiders didn’t quite get the start they wanted last weekend, losing 2-1 at Hull, but they were unlucky not to come away with something after a positive first half in which Andreas Weimann’s close-range strike gave them a deserved lead.

Pearson’s side conceded an equaliser from a hotly disputed penalty, then didn’t get a spot-kick of their own shortly afterwards, before losing to a deflected strike.

Bristol City and Sunderland were impressive in the opening period on day one, and will be hoping to start this match in similar vein: it could be an even contest between two sides who may not be too far apart this season.

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“I think Bristol City and Sunderland will both finish in midtable and as such, see this being an even game with perhaps the visitors being the ones a fraction underrated – I’d back their bench to change a game more than that of the hosts.”

Gab Sutton

Sheffield United v Millwall

Millwall Clean Sheet

It’s not every day that Millwall are top of the Championship, but that’s the position from which they enter week two.

The Lions were the only team to win by a margin of more than one goal on the opening day, courtesy of a Charlie Cresswell brace in a 2-0 victory over Stoke.

The Leeds loanee is the son of Richard Cresswell but, unlike his father, Charlie is a centre-back: he had a header tipped over from a corner, before the resultant one allowed him to ram home.

Millwall have done very well when it comes to defenders in recent years, with Jake Cooper, Shaun Hutchinson and Murray Wallace proving so reliable at this level and while they lost Arsenal loanee Dan Ballard this season, Cresswell looks an excellent replacement.

In fact, last week’s result means that if the South Bermondsey outfit were to keep one more clean sheet, they will have recorded a whole season’s worth of league shut-outs under Gary Rowett’s tutelage: the ex-Birmingham boss took charge in October 2019.

Of course, keeping out an uninspiring Stoke side may be easier than stopping Sheffield United, who have just added James McAtee, on loan from Man City, to their attacking options.

The midfielder is embarking on senior football for the first time, though – bar a couple of substitute Premier League appearances – and the arrival doesn’t change the question marks over the Blades up top.

Billy Sharp is an excellent professional with natural goalscoring instincts but the skipper is now 36, but Daniel Jebbison is half his age: he struggled in Monday’s 1-0 loss at Watford, while Rhian Brewster is talented but languid.

If United can bring in the perfect focal point, they could catch fire, but as things are they may struggle to get much change out of Millwall’s strong centre-backs and as such, may rely on individual brilliance from Illiman Ndiaye.

The Senegalese attacking midfielder could work his magic, but it’s likelier that the visitors have a tough time breaching this uncompromising Lions rear-guard.

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“Charlie Cresswell had a dream debut last week: he’s an extremely talented defender and he slots into an already tightly-drilled Millwall defence. I’m backing the Lions to keep a 46th clean sheet of Gary Rowett’s tenure against a Sheffield United side who have bags of creativity, but not a peak-age, reliable focal point.”

Gabriel Sutton

Barnsley v Cheltenham Town

Double Chance: Draw/Cheltenham - Evens

Barnsley and Cheltenham have only had one previous meeting, in February 2003, when a 3-1 win for the South Yorkshire club proved pivotal to them staying up at the expense of Bobby Gould’s side.

Back then, Michael Duff and Martin Devaney were lining up for the Robins against the third-tier big-hitters, but now they’re in the Tarn dugout.

Devaney, a former Barnsley player, was previously Under-23s boss and took caretaker charge for a brief spell in last season’s relegation and he’s re-united with Duff, poached from Cheltenham after working miracles in the Cotswolds for four years.

The Northern Irishman kept Town up comfortably in 2018-19 thanks to outstanding home form, he led them to the Play-Offs against the odds the following season, then to their first ever EFL title, then to their highest ever finish.

After such a golden era, Duff has etched himself as one of the most iconic figures in Cheltenham’s history and hopes acquire similar legendary status at Barnsley, who are in a rebuilding phase.

The Reds began their campaign with a 1-0 loss at Plymouth Argyle, which emphasised their need for a midfield general, as well as re-enforcements at right wing-back and up top, although in the latter case, Slobodan Tedić joins on loan from Man City.

Tedić’s goalscoring record reads two in 38 for PEC Zwolle, while fellow striker James Norwood hasn’t been prolific since hitting 32 for Tranmere in 2018-19, but that was in League Two: the Tykes may miss a clinical edge.

Cheltenham, meanwhile, lost 3-2 to Peterborough on the opening day but they led that match by two goals at half-time and were outplaying a side many believed to be best placed from those relegated from the Championship.

Ultimately, Wade Elliott’s side couldn’t quite maintain their levels but if they can produce a similar first half performance at Oakwell, they may be able to get their first points of the season on the board.

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“Alfie May scored 26 goals last season and he’s already off-the-mark this time around. The striker’s buzzing energy, neat link-up play and smart finishing makes him one of the best in the division, and while Cheltenham still have him, they have a chance of competing – especially against a Barnsley side still establishing the blueprint for a top six challenge.”

Gab Sutton

Fleetwood Town v Plymouth Argyle

Plymouth Argyle To Win

If a bigger-named club had delivered the same results as Plymouth Argyle last season and started this one with the same squad as well as beating Barnsley 1-0 on the opening day, they would be odds-on to win at Fleetwood.

The Devoners are a middle-sized club at this level, which is why they are not priced like a title favourite, but they are one of the best run and managed.

Argyle recorded 80 points in 2021-22 and although that tally didn’t happen to be enough for a top six berth in a freakishly competitive Play-Off scramble, they’ve since significantly improved the squad.

No key players have left, barring maybe on-loan Ryan Broom, and the club have added six players who all enhance the group: energetic utility man Bali Mumba, box-to-box Matt Butcher, speedy forward Morgan Whittaker, advanced creator Finn Azaz, right-sided defender Nigel Longwijk and attacking wing-back Mickel Miller.

Because of those additions, Steven Schumacher’s side have enviable depth in every position and if they improve on last year’s total, they will likely be in the mix for automatic promotion.

Fleetwood, meanwhile, managed just half Argyle’s tally last season, amassing fewer points than anyone has stayed up with in the third tier since Hull in 1979-80.

The Trawlermen are expecting improvement under Scott Brown with a youthful, exuberant side, but there wasn’t a huge deal of evidence of progress in their disappointing 2-1 opening day defeat at Port Vale.

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“The points tallies suggest Argyle were twice as good as Fleetwood last season. I’m not naïve enough to say it’ll be as simple as that on the pitch, but Steven Schumacher’s side look even stronger on paper this season and they beat Barnsley on day one. I’d have been open to backing them at Evens, so very happy to get 23/20 quotes.”

Gab Sutton

Barrow v Bradford City

Barrow To Win

Most of the casual League Two observers see Barrow as likely relegation fodder in 2022-23, after the club returned to the EFL with 20th and 22nd-placed finishes.

More educated viewers, meanwhile, expect some improvement from the Bluebirds under the guidance of Pete Wild, who led low-budgeted Halifax to two top seven finishes in three National League campaigns.

It was a flying start for Wild, too, with the former Oldham caretaker starting life as a permanent EFL manager with a 3-2 victory at Stockport.

Barrow did not create a host of chances, but they looked like scoring every time they came forward and were incredibly incisive and clinical in the final third, with Josh Gordon, Ben Whitfield and Billy Waters hitting three impressive long-range first half strikes into the far corner.

The Bluebirds also defended bravely with George Ray and Niall Canavan at the back, with Sam Foley, Harrison Neal and Robbie Gotts scrapping in midfield.

Wild’s side did ride their luck, because they looked set to drop the points when the referee blew for a penalty in stoppage time, before undoing his decision because the linesman had waved for offside – dubiously so, on second viewing.

Nonetheless, it was an outstanding result against one of the promotion favourites and there is reason to think they can get another positive result against Bradford.

The Bantams are also tipped by many to compete at the top this year, but Mark Hughes’ side could only manage a goalless draw with Doncaster on day one, despite playing the whole second half of that game with a man advantage.

The West Yorkshire outfit have a midfielder in Richie Smallwood capable of running games at this level – after all, the experienced destroyer started 40 Championship matches for Hull last season.

What they lack, however, is width, and that is what will be required to open up a Barrow side who look compact and difficult to penetrate through the middle.

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“I can see why Bradford may be slight favourites, but I don’t think Barrow should be as big as 19/10 given that Pete Wild’s side were three up at Stockport inside half an hour on the opening day. The Bantams’ lack of width saw them fail to break down 10-man opposition in Doncaster in the second half last week.”

Gab Sutton

Newport County v Walsall

Walsall Draw No Bet

8/5

Walsall enjoyed a dream start to their campaign, thrashing Hartlepool 4-0.

It’s been a busy summer for the Saddlers, with 15 new players coming in, so it helped that 12 of those arrived by 1st July.

Michael Flynn had a whole pre-season to work with his recruits on team cohesion and establishing patterns of play, which meant that rather than beginning the campaign as a work-in-progress, they were ready to hit the ground running.

Walsall certainly did that, and then some: Danny Johnson grabbed the headlines with his hat-trick, after joining on loan from Mansfield, where the nippy poacher had been out of favour, but other debutants were just as impressive.

Isaac Hutchinson brought relentless energy as a number eight, Taylor Allen was outstanding as an inverted left wing-back, Brandon Comley ran the midfield and Peter Clarke organised the defence around him.

Flynn led Newport to the Great Escape in 2016-17, then two Play-Off Finals in four full seasons on one of the division’s lower budgets: unlucky not to secure League One football in either of them.

The Pyll-born boss’ Rodney Parade replacement is James Rowberry, who is hoping to show why he was such a highly rated coach at Cardiff.

Rowberry did that last season, despite being unable to lead County into the top seven, and now he has the task of replacing key players in Dom Telford, Finn Azaz and Oli Cooper, as well as fixing some of the defensive issues.

Telford’s replacements up top are Omar Bogle and Offrande Zanzala, who showed promise in the opening day draw at Sutton, but some extra creativity in midfield may be required, despite the arrival of James Waite from his former employers.

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“Newport aren’t quite yet where they want to be squad wise, whereas Walsall emphatically are, after thrashing Hartlepool 4-0 on the opening day. I think there’s a chance Michael Flynn oversees victory at his old stomping ground and that his side begin this campaign with maximum points.”

Gab Sutton
Odds are correct at the time of posting

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